As is said, there are few things warmer than standing in winter rain singing, “Deck the Halls” under an old and well-lit spruce.
Though leaden cloud and a sullen drizzle cancelled Radford’s Parade of Lights, at the city’s public library, all was warmth, bells and silver lamé Santa hats as the library hosted its 15th Tree Lighting Ceremony.
Engaging the community in cider-scented festivities that captured art, history, feasting and song, the early evening, scheduled as a parade amuse bouche, culminated with the lighting of a 70-year-old spruce and ukulele caroling.
Ultimately, more than 300 people attended. Early on, Radford University MS2 ROTC team leader, Kevin Guditus, 19, an RU sophomore in outdoor recreation, was stationed at the front desk in khaki OCPs and helpful demeanor.
“My job is to count people. There have been 164, so far. A lot of small children,” Guditus said.
Radford University ROTC cadets traditionally volunteer for Radford City holiday events and cadets in khaki camouflage sat knees-to-chins at tiny tables assisting those small children gluing together reindeer ornaments and serving cookies and cider.
Ceremonially lighting the tree began in the 40s to honor Radford soldiers missing and lost. The Garden Club planted the spruce beside a monument with 800 names on it and room for 1300.
The tree lit darkness then as it does now. The honor roll of names is now housed in the historic American Legion hall across Main and the library took the tree-lighting reins in 2002.
Asked about the tradition, nineteen-year-old library clerk and history major Hannah Long in red gown and matching antlers, was helping a child in a sweatshirt that read, “Blame it on the Sugar,” glue pompoms on a green construction-paper-spiral Christmas tree.
“This has been going on since I was little. I remember coming out to see the tree be lit. For me, that’s when Christmas started.”
And music was everywhere. Radford University’s Chorale crooned in the Young Adult section while David Horton, Radford City Chamber of Commerce president officiated with a beribboned top hat and merry glint as The Grove United Methodist Church distributed handbells in blue, yellow, red, and green. Already clanging enthusiastically, children and grown-ups followed colored cards held up by Libby Watts, handbell choir director.
With lovely red curls and a pine-green sweatshirt, Angelina Clark, 12, of Radford, was there for her first time shaking a blue bell enthusiastically.
“Oh yeah. I would definitely recommend it. It’s been alotta [sic] fun,” she said.
As night fell, the celebrants streamed out the back door into chill and mist. Pompom hats and antlers silhouetted black against traffic on Main and the no-nonsense lights outlining the little American Legion alone across the road.
David Horton led a countdown and “5-4-3-2-1! Yay!” And the tree was lit like a ship, and seemed brighter in the mist.
“Deck the halls with boughs of holly!” sang everybody.
The library this year, led by Library Director Elizabeth Sensabaugh, has blended traditions old and new. Small children weeping or chatting on Santa’s lap were photographed with an iPad sending files to inboxes, and a hip ukulele, guitar and bass band led carolers through “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Feliz Navidad,” and Let it Snow!
In the end, to the jaunty lilt of “Mele Kalikimaka,” happy children asleep on shoulders, still gripping cookies and green construction paper spirals, were carried out into the parking lot and a new tradition was begun.